Cork-born Ellen Thompson,who was executed on the 13th of June, 1887, is believed to be the only woman hanged in Queensland, writes JOHN WRIGHT.


Ellen Lynch was 12 when she boarded the Joshua bound for Australia in April 1858 with her widowed mother Mary (née Murphy) and 9-year-old sister Mary. Ellen was from Ballyvourney, County Cork, and the plan was to join her mother’s sister in Goulburn, New South Wales.

Drawn to the gold rush at Palmer River in Far North Queensland, by 1874 Ellen herself was a widow (of William Wood) left struggling in nearby Cooktown with their five children. And in 1878 she had moved to Port Douglas where she started work as housekeeper to irascible William ‘Billy’ Thomson, 24 years her senior, who had a farm on the Mossman River. They married in November 1880 after the birth of a daughter, Helen.

“The relationship became more violent and authorities eventually stepped in to remove some of the children who’d fallen victim to Billy’s temper,” Kate Kyriacou wrote in the Herald Sun in December 2014. “He’d thrown a kerosene lamp at one of Ellen’s daughter’s during a disagreement. When his wife objected, he’d hurled a knife in her direction. He’d had harsh words for their Chinese neighbours too. ‘I will be putting a bullet through some of them or burning their humpies around them’,” he said once.

“Billy and his wife had moved into their separate dwellings but she would still inherit the property upon his death. She took to working in the cane fields herself. It was there she met former marine and deserter, John Harrison, who knew his lover would keep the property if her husband should die.”

On October 22, 1886, Billy was found lying dead next to his gun. “Ellen dictated a letter to police,” Kyriacou wrote. “Her husband had taken his own life.” Local gossip led to detectives arriving in January to arrest the pair. “Billy’s remains were exhumed. Surgeons inspected his skull and decided the two holes in his skull were not the entry and exit wounds of the one gunshot. They now believed Billy had been shot twice.

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